(10/18/18 01:00 AM CDT)
The lurid details of Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged death revealed on Wednesday were perhaps the most shocking so far in a slow drip of revelations over the past two weeks. The saga surrounding the fate of Saudi Arabia’s best-known journalist has played out in claims and counterclaims published in the world’s media, as both Turkey and Riyadh struggle to control the narrative. Since news of Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance broke, journalists have had to rely on carefully controlled releases of information from Turkey - a country which has in recent years muzzled its relative free press - and Saudi Arabia, which never enjoyed one to begin with. The singular fact that both countries can agree on is that Mr Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at 1.14pm on October 2, leaving his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz waiting outside. Turkey gave Saudi Arabia a day to come up with an explanation, but Riyadh was not forthcoming. The kingdom claimed that the journalist met with officials at the consulate and left shortly after, saying they noted nothing out of the ordinary. Ms Cengiz, who stood by the exit for more than four hours before raising the alarm, said that was impossible. A security guard walks into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey Credit: AP Saudi’s response appeared not to be satisfactory for Turkey either, which was under mounting pressure to investigate an alleged state-ordered assassination on its soil. Then, just before midnight that Friday and three days after Mr Khashoggi was last seen, Reuters news agency - quoting two unnamed Turkish police sources - claimed that the journalist had been killed inside the consulate. It was a bombshell allegation, particularly for his family - which had not yet been given any indication he might be dead. By doing so, Turkey indicated that it would not be dismissed so easily. The next day, Saudi’s consul-general invited Reuters for a tour of the consulate - the alleged murder scene - in an attempt to appear transparent. “We are worried about him,” Mohammad al-Otaibi told the camera as he opened various cabinets, telling the journalists “but look, he is not here.” Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee Hatice (L) and her friends wait in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Credit: AFP It was only after that the leaks to the press started coming thick and fast. CCTV footage of Mr Khashoggi, 60, entering the consulate was passed to the Washington Post, the US paper which had been publishing comment pieces by the dissident journalist. Anonymous Turkish sources introduced the theory that the murder was premeditated and the kingdom had assembled a “hit squad” of 15 assassins, which travelled from Riyadh to Istanbul the day of Mr Khashoggi’s consular visit. The flight manifestos of their flights between Riyadh and Istanbul were released, along with photographs of them arriving at Ataturk airport. Online sleuths managed to identify the men: at least nine worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries. The CCTV image of Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Among those was Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, president of the Saudi Fellowship of Forensic Pathology who specialises in gathering DNA from crime scenes and dissecting bodies. He arrived in Istanbul early morning on October 2 and flew out again at 11pm the same day. He was joined by Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a diplomat assigned to the Saudi Embassy in London in 2007. Records show he travelled extensively with the crown prince on foreign trips. Images were also released of a convoy of black vans with diplomatic licence plates arriving shortly before 1pm and driving away at 3.08pm. Turkish sources implied that members of the squad carried out bits of the journalist’s body to the cars and drove them to the consul-general’s house a short distance away. All this pointed to a premeditated murder, not simply the case of an interrogation gone wrong. Around this time that Turkey made it be known that they had audio of the killing, which they claimed was from an Apple smartwatch he was wearing at the time. However, experts later said it was more likely to have come from a bugging device that Ankara did not want to admit to having placed in the consulate. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, on October 16, 2018 Credit: AFP Perhaps the leak was intended to scare the kingdom into confessing. But Riyadh, which is not accustomed to being held to account, did not address the claims other than to call them “baseless”. Instead it attempted to undermine the reports by focusing on the source of information and the idea that Turkey does not have a neutral viewpoint, in part due to its ties with Saudi foe Qatar. US President Donald Trump, who has closely aligned himself with the bin Salman family, proposed the idea that the men were “rogue killers”, a semi-plausible alternative that could allow the kingdom’s rulers to distance themselves from the growing saga. While the theory may seem improbable to those who have been paying attention, it could still prove to be the only one to get the US and Saudi Arabia out of their tight spot. Neither country is looking for a high-level diplomatic confrontation and both have strong incentives to agree a version of events that absolves Crown Prince Mohammed. President Donald Trump places his hands on a glowing orb as he tours with other leaders the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh Credit: Reuters Adding a new element to the mix was the US pastor detained by Turkey on charges of espionage. The issue had threatened ties between the two countries, with Ankara refusing to release Pastor Andrew Brunson despite the threat of US sanctions. When he was somewhat unexpectedly released last Friday, it prompted speculation it had been done in return for US silence over the Khashoggi case. Recent developments, however, have made it increasingly difficult for the crown prince to deny involvement. Turkish police investigators - which were for two weeks denied permission from Saudi to search the consulate - were allowed in on Tuesday. While their findings are not yet known, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed that investigators were looking at “toxic materials” and fresh paint on the walls. On Wednesday, the recording of the killing was leaked to pro-government daily newspaper Yeni Safak, which decided not to publish the audio but instead detailed its graphic contents. Turkish forensic and investigation officers arrive at Saudi Consul's residence for a search Credit: AFP Mr Khashoggi is reportedly heard screaming as he has his fingers cut off one-by-one. Apparently there had been no attempt made to first interrogate him. As one of the men allegedly starts to dismember the body, he is said to put on earphones and is heard in the recording advising other members of the squad to do the same and listen to music. At some point, Saudi’s consul-general enters the room and tells the men to leave or he will “get in trouble”. The latest reports are the most damning yet. It is unclear what either side’s next move will be. Both have had to think about how the episode plays domestically and internationally. Turkey cannot afford to sever diplomatic relations with Saudi over the killing, but turning a blind eye to foreign countries carrying out assassinations on its soil would set a dangerous precedent. While at first the Turkish leaks appeared chaotic and at times contradictory, they have become much more consistent and on-message. “One can only imagine that the Turks' expectations of what Riyadh is going to do have changed,” H.A. Hellyer, a senior nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council in London, told the New York Times. Turkish investigators were on Wednesday searching consul-general Mr Otaibi’s residence. Reporting has suggested that they are likely to find Mr Khashoggi’s severed head and dismembered body in its garden. That is, if reports are to be believed.